Report finds one in five Bay Area bridges structually deficient 

One in five Bay Area bridges is marked by the federal government as high-priority for monitoring and repair, according to a report released today by a national transportation organization.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Transportation for America found the region had more "structurally deficient" bridges than the national average, the report said.

The bridges have significant wear and tear or defects to at least one part, and they will continue to deteriorate over time, Transportation for America representatives said today during a conference call.

"Structurally deficient isn't inherently a danger," spokesman Ryan Wiggins said. "It's a process. Long-term maintenance of the bridge will lengthen its life."

Transportation for America has found that deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as preventive repairs and that repair work on roads and bridges creates 16 percent more jobs than new construction, its representatives said.

The group called on Congress to invest more in infrastructure, which it said would stimulate the economy in addition to preventing the cost of bridge repairs from escalating.

Joe Cruz, director of transportation policy for the construction worker association California Alliance for Jobs, said investing in bridge repairs could generate 18,000 jobs in the state.

He said the state unemployment rate in the construction industry is about 35 percent, thanks in part to 320,000 construction jobs lost in California since 2007.

"Investment in infrastructure is a proven way to stimulate the economy," he said, citing U.S. Department of Transportation numbers that found $1 billion in infrastructure investment yielded $5 billion in economic activity.

Most bridges are designed to last about 50 years, but the average bridge age in California is 44.4 years, according to Transportation for America.

The group found that San Francisco had the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the Bay Area, with 40 out of 116, or 34.5 percent, falling into that category.

Next was Alameda County with 130 out of 601 bridges, or 21.6 percent, followed by San Mateo County with 74 out of 344 bridges, or 21.5 percent.

Napa County had the fewest structurally deficient bridges both percentage-wise and overall with 23 out of 150, or 15.3 percent, deemed deficient.

Caltrans, which inspects, maintains, and preserves roughly 24,000 state and local bridges, issued a response today that emphasized its "robust bridge management program" designed "to ensure our state bridges are safe."

While the agency said it recognized the critical role that bridges play in the state economy, the statement said that "protecting this valuable asset is becoming a challenge due to the effects of age and increasing demand."

Caltrans echoed the need for sound long-term federal investment in infrastructure to "keep millions of motorists and billions of dollars of commerce moving."

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